5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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IN THE FOREST OF THE NIGHT
It’s funny, Doctor Who. You’re trundling along, episode episode episode, blah blah blah. And then suddenly it tosses up an episode with an unmistakably magical quality, one that sets it utterly apart from everything around it. In The Forest Of The Night is that episode.
And what does this magical quality consist of? Easy. We thought it was beyond the limits of human possibility, but it achieves it in one effortless leap: it’s so bad it makes Rompbot Of Shitwood look like Shakespeare.
To give it its due, the first few seconds are very very pretty. Director Sheree Folkson’s obviously doing her very best to spin bollocks into gold, and we feel deeply for her, as we do for everyone on this production except for the writer and Steven Moffat.
The trouble is, it’s trees. Big leafy green lovely trees. We like trees. Very much. And anyone attempting to convince us that the worst danger to a little girl running through the woods is the trees has a large mountain ahead of them and a very small shovel.
The little girl finds the TARDIS, and is that a lacy jumper the Doctor’s wearing? How gender-bendy. Our threshold for adorable kids is pretty low, but this one’s quite appealing, and we like the Doctor’s line about the sugar in Coke. Then they go outside and find that Birnam wood’s come to Trafalgar Square.
This, in itself, is not a terrible idea. A foe, as it were, who isn’t bent on destruction, and in fact is quite benign in many ways. Think of all that lovely carbon capturing. And yet having a gang of larches in your driveway is also undeniably a trifle inconvenient to civilisation as we know it. Interesting conundrum.
But it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Do they do it well? We’ll give you a hint: no. A bigger hint: sweet baby Jesus, no. More on that story later.
Meanwhile, Mr Pink and Clara are shepherding a bunch of tedious and interchangeable children through a sleepover at the fictional (and rubbish) London Zoological Museum. One of them has a torch. There are some stuffed wolves. There is a stuffed tiger. Remember all of that: there’ll be an exam later.
They get outside. Yep, trees. They’re on Cromwell Road and there’s a sign for the Natural History Museum, which is slightly confusing given that they were at the Zoological Museum, but if that was the worst thing about this episode we’d be happy campers.
At this point, we have a bunch of kids and two teachers wandering around in the woods. This is possibly intended to be scary or tense or something, but come on, it’s trees, so it’s actually lovely. Then suddenly, this sylvan idyll is interrupted by something happening! Unfortunately, however, what this is is that everybody concerned is struck down by an attack of stupid. The government is going to make paths through the forest with “carefully controlled burns”. In an urban area. Hahahaha! Meanwhile, the Doctor is wondering why scanning trees isn’t giving him any readings, the answer “Because they’re trees” occurring to him embarrassingly late in the piece.
The kids troop into the TARDIS, and can we say how much we hate this trend of using the TARDIS as a bomb shelter? Courtney got stowed in there too. The BBC clearly thinks it’s far too scary these days to expose kids to any kind of danger, but isn’t that what an adventure is? Having the TARDIS to bolt to comprehensively lets the air out of it.
By this stage, it has clearly dawned on someone that absolutely nothing is happening, so as a counterbalance, some even more stupid things start occurring at random. Nelson’s Column falls over, apparently causing a dust storm in the TARDIS, as the kids burst out of it coughing. Maebh leaves a trail of possessions as a clue to where she’s going, despite the fact that a phone lying in the forest gives exactly zero clue as to which way you went after that (and if she wanted someone with her, why did she take off by herself in the first place?)
And in the middle of this, there’s a diversion: the Doctor delivers himself of a speech about how “the forest is mankind (sic)’s nightmare”. 1. It is? We. Like. Trees! 2. For the love of God, will they stop banging on about fairy tales? Steven Moffat is clearly determined to pursue this point even if it pulls the whole franchise down around his ears. Which, we are sad to say, is not out of the question.
Back to the stupidity. Men in silver suits start their “controlled burn”, which turns out to involve wildly aiming a flame-thrower at a random tree. The Doctor tells us that trees control all the oxygen on Earth and if they withhold it something or other. We’d stopped listening at this point, because the Doctor had just told us the trees were magic.
And just when you’re starting to wonder why we can only see trees (and no, like, houses or off licenses, or power poles for that matter, or indeed some of the other millions of people in central London or even pigeons): an ominous howl. Because wolves. And we started to get annoyed on a whole other level. No, Doctor, a wolf will not be put off if you make yourself look big. In fact, they’re adapted to hunt large mammals by preference. Nor is shining a torch, especially during the day, in the eyes of a tiger likely to even slightly put it off taking bites out of you. (While we’re at it, contrary to popular mythology lighting a campfire does you no good either. Since when have you seen a cat refusing to get near a fire? You usually have to pry them away with a crowbar.) And speaking of the other millions of people, how likely is it that the TARDIS bunch are the very first prey the animals have encountered? The zoo is literally miles away from Trafalgar Square.
Anyway. Wolves and tiger sorted, and apparently we don’t have to worry about whether they might come back or anything: from the instant relaxation of the Doctor et al you’d think they’d been beamed away.
But that’s quite sensible compared with what comes next. From this point on, the torrent of bollocks, interspersed with aimless trekking through the woods, becomes unstoppable. The Doctor makes the voices in Maebh’s head into visible sparks…by…increasing…gravity. Byincreasinggravity. Nope, there’s no way we can say that that makes any sense.
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that the revelation that trees are not only magic but can talk would occasion a little surprise on the part of the Doctor and/or Clara and Danny, even a little discussion as to what the hell the trees think they’re doing and whether they can do anything about it, but nah. They just shrug and walk away.
Clara urges the Doctor to save as many people as he can, then when he says he’ll save the children asks him what on earth he’s doing as they only want their mums and dads. It turns out this is a cunning plan on her part, but can’t he save their mums and dads too? The Doctor offers to save Danny and Clara, and Clara says Danny won’t leave these kids. But the kids don’t want Danny, they want their mums and dads! And Clara would rather die than be the last of her kind, even though she’s standing next to a time machine and could live out a perfectly lovely life in some comfy little niche in the past. With Amy, maybe.
They then find out that the government is hard at work planning to use a defoliant on the trees so they’re easier to burn. So the magic flameproof part of the tree is the leaves….oh, whatever. Your tax dollars at work.
And then the Doctor figures it all out. We can hardly type this without laughing ourselves into a coma, but it turns out extraterrestrial threats cause the trees to produce extra oxygen which acts (wiping away tears now) as an airbag. And when the threat hits it burns up the extra oxygen. Because that helps. Somehow.
Puh-leeze. An airbag doesn’t work just because it happens to have some gas in it: it works because the gas, propelled by an explosion, exerts a force in the opposite direction to your face which is hurtling towards the windscreen. Just having oxygen vaguely hanging around does not constitute anything like an airbag.
And a fire doesn’t just burn oxygen and politely retreat. In fact, it can’t burn just oxygen. It needs fuel: the kind of fuel provided by lots of trees, for example. So all trees would be doing by pumping out extra oxygen would be setting up a giant fireball which would probably scour the entire earth to the ground.
Take a moment. Marvel at the idiocy. But don’t delay too long , because another cartload of it is hurtling around the bend. Oh noes! The magic trees are about to be defoliated! How much defoliation, exactly, do they think the British government is going to manage in a single day, especially when the entire world is covered with trees? Never mind, we’d better stop them anyway, by telling them not to. Which is not at all the same device used in Kill The Moon ages ago. Oh, wait. It was three episodes ago.
The Doctor invites everyone to see the solar flare, and Clara’s totally up for it. But Danny ain’t. Because the undescribed horrors he saw (did?) as a soldier mean that he never wants to see anything new for the rest of his life. Wow, he's a fun one, isn't he? And aren't he and Clara perfectly matched?
Then Danny gives Clara a dressing down for lying to him. Which we can see, but we do think it’s a bit rich that he’s lecturing her about “fearing a little less, trusting a little more” when the last time they discussed this issue he gave her an ultimatum about travelling with the Doctor.
And then the magic trees disappear. Yep. Disappear. Somehow. No discussion of how it might actually be quite handy, global warming-wise, to keep a few of ‘em around or anything like that, and no sign of where they’ve been when they go either. And Maebh finds her sister. Turns out some kind of firefly mafia has been holding her prisoner. In a bush.
All of which raises the critical question: how many tequilas would it take before any of this made sense? And how many Class A drugs before the boring parts stopped being boring? A lot, that’s how many. A lot.
Let’s face it, it’s been a pretty gruelling season. The Moon was an egg, after all. But this awesomely towering pile of moist, fragrant and gently steaming bollocks leaves everything else utterly in the dust.
“I’m a Time Lord, not a child minder”. Lovely, lovely delivery, Doctor.
IF I SAY SO MYSELF
“You find yourself with a strangely compelling masculine figure.” We don’t even want to know where the Doctor’s going with this.
THE WOOD FOR THE TREES
You know how the Doctor is darkly opining about how forests have worked their way into fairytales as a form of memory, right? Well, what a load of crapola that is. Of course the originally German fairytales he's talking about mentioned forests a lot - there was nothing but forests then, interspersed with the occasional village and/or yokel.